The diphenyl-pyrazole compound anle138b is a known inhibitor of oligomeric aggregate formation in vitro and in vivo. Therefore, anle138b is considered a promising drug candidate to beneficially interfere with neurodegenerative processes causing devastating pathologies in humans. The atomistic details of the aggregation inhibition mechanism, however, are to date unknown since the ensemble of small nonfibrillar aggregates is structurally heterogeneous and inaccessible to direct structural characterization. Here, we set out to elucidate anle138b's mode of action using all-atom molecular dynamics simulations on the multi-microsecond time scale. By comparing simulations of dimeric to tetrameric aggregates from fragments of four amyloidogenic proteins (Aβ, hTau40, hIAPP, and Sup35N) in the presence and absence of anle138b, we show that the compound reduces the overall number of intermolecular hydrogen bonds, disfavors the sampling of the aggregated state, and remodels the conformational distributions within the small oligomeric peptide aggregates. Most notably, anle138b preferentially interacts with the disordered structure ensemble via its pyrazole moiety, thereby effectively blocking interpeptide main chain interactions and impeding the spontaneous formation of ordered β-sheet structures, in particular those with out-of-register antiparallel β-strands. The structurally very similar compound anle234b was previously identified as inactive by in vitro experiments. Here, we show that anle234b has no significant effect on the aggregation process in terms of reducing the β-structure content. Moreover, we demonstrate that the hydrogen bonding capabilities are autoinhibited due to steric effects imposed by the molecular geometry of anle234b and thereby indirectly confirm the proposed inhibitory mechanism of anle138b. We anticipate that the prominent binding of anle138b to partially disordered and dynamical aggregate structures is a generic basis for anle138b's ability to suppress toxic oligomer formation in a wide range of amyloidogenic peptides and proteins.
Keywords: MD simulations; Neurodegenerative diseases; amyloid; molecular dynamics; oligomeric aggregate; small molecule inhibitor.